24th of November – Season 1
Mandla Xulu had always been a fan of motorsport. Like many South Africans just like him, for years growing up, he would have done anything to have South Africa represented in the top racing series. So, when Mandla heard about this weekly formula-one-like racing series that played on Monday nights, Mandla was intrigued.
While Mandla had been too busy to attend any of the episodes of Fuel, he was able to buy a ticket to what they called a pay-per-view. And it wasn’t any ordinary ticket. It was a backstage pass that allowed Mandla to go to places other fans could only dream of. In fact, when Mandla arrived, he was quickly joined by Glenwood Jacobs who introduced himself as the Formula-X Racing Club’s Vice President.
As they walked through the make-shift backstage area, Mandla noticed the way Glen was looking at him… or not looking at him. “Is there something you want to ask me?” asked Mandla.
“Well, I’m just wondering why you’re here.” When Mandla looked at Glen amusingly this time, Glen continued. “I know who you are; I know the kind of influence you have. So, I’m just wondering if this is an angle to you: a means to an end.”
Mandla simply smiled. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just a fan tonight.”
A single word caught Glen’s attention. “Tonight?”
However, before Glen could interrogate Mandla, they were joined by Moodswing who had a smile for their guest. “Ah, Mister Xulu, you made it.”
“Moodswing,” said Mandla. “I told you over the phone not to call me Mister Xulu. That’s my father.”
“Actually, I believe that your father goes by a different title, no?”
Mandla knew exactly what Moodswing was talking about but ignored the quip. Tonight, he wasn’t his father’s son. “So, how are the racers looking tonight, Moodswing?”
“Do you actually care?” said Glen, snidely.
Mandla took the insult in his stride. “Ouch,” he said playfully. “You know, I’ll have you know that I’m very well versed in engines.” Mandla reacted to Glen’s sceptical look. “I can break them down and put them back together.”
While Glen remained sceptical, Moodswing, on the other hand, was entranced by this news. “Why Mandla, I never knew. If I did, I might have—”
“You might have what?” asked Glen curious.
“Yeah,” said Mandla, “you might have what?” Mandla’s tone was vastly different from Glen’s as he was far more amused.
Moodswing simply smiled, still looking at Mandla as if in a different light. “Never mind. C’mon, Mandla. The first race is about to begin. I’ll tell you all about it from the V.I.P. area.” As they walked away, Moodswing heard Glen ask ‘what V.I.P. area’. Confused.
TOUCH MKHIZE VS. PENNY POTGIETER VS. BRENDA KOEK
Mandla was admittedly confused when he saw three racers take to the racetrack rather than two. While Mandla hadn’t watched as much of Monday Night Fuel as he’d wished, he knew a lot about it from strong word of mouth which was why he had expected a lot of what they called match racing: one-on-one races.
Moodswing noticed the curious look on Mandla’s face. “It’s called a three-way race. I designed it as the climax of this so-called rivalry between Penny,” he said pointing at the young, pretty but tough-looking Caucasian lady, “and Brenda.” Moodswing then explained the past four weeks to Mandla.
Mandla nodded understanding. “So then, why involve Mkhize?” While Mandla didn’t admit it, he kind of liked Touch Mkhize. He felt like he was born and bred to be a sports entertainer.
“I included Touch because Penny and Brenda weren’t drawing,” Moodswing explained that that meant that people weren’t as interested in seeing Penny and Brenda competing together as others. “Now, before you ask, it’s not about them being women. Lord knows, the fans are quite taken by the women we have in the series and not for the reasons you expect. They damn sure respect them. But when it comes to Penny and Brenda,” Moodswing shrugged his shoulders, “there’s just no investment on the part of the fans. So, in order to give this thing some finality, I put them in a title race to determine the first-ever Duke of Drag.”
Mandla thought about that for a moment. Except when he thought about it, he thought about the whole thing. “Wait, so did you manufacture this whole thing? When you said no to Brenda’s challenge to Penny back when Dime debuted, did you know that this is where it would end up?”
Moodswing looked at Mandla as if looking at him for the first time. It was clear that he was intrigued by the man. “There’s a lot more than meets the eye with you, isn’t there, Mister Xulu.”
“I told about calling me that.”
“Well, I’m sure the Dee Em won’t mind.”
LONGITUDE & LATITUDE VS. PENNY & DIME
Despite having taken a liking to Touch Mkhize, Mandla couldn’t help but be disappointed when he took the race and was introduced as the “Nnneeww Duke of Drag.” Mandla felt that him getting the title this early would rob the man of his edge. He had this feeling that Touch was more entertaining as a chaser rather than the pursued. But he’d have to wait and see.
The good news for Mandla was that his favourite to win the Duke (or Duchess rather) of Drag title was in another race right now where the Relay Baron/Baroness titles were on the line. Like everyone else, Mandla thought Dime had been impulsive to challenge Longitude and Latitude at this pay-per-view knowing very well that his partner was in another race earlier in the night. But, the damage was done now and Mandla could only hope that the duo could vindicate themselves and pick up the win.
“So,” said Glen, catching back up with Mandla in the V.I.P. section, “what do you think so far?”
Moodswing was standing next to them when Glen asked the question so Mandla wondered if it was a loaded question. It didn’t matter because he was going to answer it honestly. “I think I like what I see,” Mandla explained that the races were different enough from anything else out there on the market that it worked. “I just have one question: with these vehicles working basically every week, how the hell do these guys maintain them all year round?”
While Glen wore a puzzled look on his face, Moodswing had become even more entranced by Mandla. “You know,” said Moodswing, “you’re the first fan that’s ever asked that, live or on social media.”
Mandla smirked. “Well, in that case, I commend you for managing to immerse these people in suspension of disbelief.”
While Moodswing continued to be impressed by Mandla, Glen’s suspicion continued to grow. “You seem to know a lot about the make-up of the show.”
“It’s less about the make up of the show and more about knowing what the people want and knowing how to give it to them. That’s one thing that you guys have nailed to tremendous success. And that’s got me really curious.”
“Man,” said Moodswing, “I’d love to hear what you have to say about our next race.” As if on cue, the relay race came to an end with Longitude and Latitude retaining much to Mandla’s disappointment. In their place, on the start line, bitter rivals: John Kloof and Jim Kieck got ready to face off in their biggest racing contest yet: The One Kilometer Derby.
THE ONE KILOMETER DERBY
“Okay,” said Mandla, “just so we’re all on the same page: after facing off twice in pay-per-view races, The Playboy and The Family Man are now going to face off in a One K.M. Derby where if Jim loses, he has to stay celibate for four months or something. And if Kloof loses, his wife has to go on a date with Jim. And now you want me to tell you what I think about that?”
Moodswing nodded before clarifying that he wasn’t looking for an argument about morality. He wanted to know what he felt about the narrative leading up to this moment. “I think that you couldn’t have planned this out so well even if you had made it up. You created a rivalry simply by exaggerating the personality traits of the racers and then encouraging them to not take any insult lying down. You manipulated a situation without telling a single lie. Quite masterful.”
Moodswing pointed his finger at Mandla excitedly while looking at Glen. “I really like this guy.”
Glen scoffed. “Huh, you like him or his status?”
Mandla once again took this in his stride. “You know, Glen, I’m beginning to think you really dislike me. Or is it my father?” Mandla noticed the slight shift in Glen’s demeanour and he knew that he’d hit the nail on the head. “That’s it, isn’t it. Well, rest assured that I’m not my father.”
All three of them were suddenly stunned by the sound of a gunshot, however, only Moodswing didn’t jump as he had anticipated this as it was him who wanted the Derby to begin with a gunshot. The race was short but a spectacular delight. The crowd was on their feet from the word go, notably more excited than they’d been for the previous two races.
Mandla noticed that Moodswing had become very excited by the crowd and Mandla knew why. It didn’t matter who the crowd was rooting for as long as they were rooting for someone. Mandla himself couldn’t help but root for Jim Kieck… even though he knew what it would mean if he won. But Mandla couldn’t help it: after two straight victories against Kloof, Jim had his number and was the clear favourite to win. So, when Kloof pulled off the victory, it was a shock to everyone – albeit a happy shock. This also had an unintended side effect: now the fans were in a frame of mind to expect anything happening… which was just in time for the feature race of the night.
KING THAWN OBERHAUSER VS. DARCY STEVENS
So far, Mandla had enjoyed the pay-per-view and the V.I.P. experience and had told Moodswing as much when he’d ask. He didn’t expect Moodswing to ask him more about vehicles. It took a while to see that Moodswing was vetting him for something: trying to figure out his knowledge base about formula racing. This led to the last question Mandla expected to be asked.
“Could you see yourself wearing that Crown one day?”
The question had caught Mandla off guard but he suddenly found himself staring at the golden, embellished helmet on Thawn Oberhauser’s head as he raced against the racer in the pink race car. While Mandla knew that there was almost no way that it could come to be, he couldn’t help but be drawn to the Crown.
“Yes, I can,” he answered.
“So, you think you could beat King Thawn?” Mandla didn’t answer Moodswing’s question. “Because if you’re interested, I have a way that you could find out.”
Mandla wasn’t sure what to say but he knew what his answer had to be. It was the only smart answer he could give. “What did you have in mind?”
After a short conversation and the rest of the race – which King Thawn won – an overjoyed Mandla made his way to the entrance of the Winner’s Circle ahead of the King. He then waited patiently; arms folded for the King to arrive. When he did, Thawn simply looked at him. Not wanting to lose face, the King approached him, locking his eyes on Mandla’s. They ended up inches from one another, neither of them breaking eye contact.
Mandla didn’t lose his smile as he stared at the King. But he wasn’t smiling because Moodswing had just offered him a job in the F-X Series. He was smiling because he knew that this was the beginning and he knew what the headlines would read: the Formula-X King stares down the son of the Deputy Mayor of the City of Ngelosi.